Trinidad and Tobago


About this new millennium

January 01, 2001

FUNNY how everyone seems to have suddenly dropped the argument about whether we are today entering the third millennium, or did we yesterday complete its first year.

It was all the rage last January, as you may remember, with otherwise sober-thinking people separating into opposing camps over the issue. There were those who refused to acknowledge the arrival of a new millennium and others who, in support of a contrary view, even cited riddles written by seer-man Nostradamus.

In addition to the discovery that this great civilisation had not yet agreed on the methodology for counting its age, parallel anxieties were also induced by expert predictions of a possible Y2K computer meltdown.

So quite apart from not being able to figure out in which millennium we were living (which was itself perplexing, since it wasn’t the first time that 1,000 years had gone by), there was the threat of not being able to even discuss it. When the computers went haywire, they told us, communication systems would crash like the air-traffic it controlled.

The western world decided to go for broke. By tying in the millennium celebration with a good ol’ Y2K global disaster, if things really went awry, the computer-controlled pyrotechnics would be extinguished precisely at midnight, ushering in the dawn of a new age with universal darkness. Heavy stuff, I thought. Very heavy stuff indeed.

The resulting hysteria, taken at the flood, augured well for religion. With airplanes tumbling out of the sky, no way of contacting the baby-sitter or relatives and panic gorging on itself, no one would have doubted the deeply spiritual version of that same story for many years to come.

Mark you, it was an exclusively intellectual consideration. Ordinary people went along with the hoopla and partying, perhaps hoping that at some time during Year 2000, an admission of error by the powers-that-be would result in a fresh round of celebration when the real time came.

Astrologers, mathematicians and other fine minds came into open conflict on the subject, forgetting that in the first place, only the western world thought that we were on the cusp of some historically significant time calibration.

The Bhuddists, Muslims and Hindus were never part of the argument, since they had long passed their second millennium and without complexity. The western world, famous for its theatrics in any situation, mounted a massive television show to make its point.

While our Government made repeated references to 2001 as the start of the new era, there was no consensus. Tobago, or at least the Chief Secretary of its House of Assembly, took the American position and participated in a highly controversial multi-million dollar Ringbang Concert to mark the spot. At the end of the day, in fact at the end of the year, no one seems any the wiser about the exact cost of the concert or in which millennium it was staged. Year 2000 will however be remembered as one of the few occasions in history when elapsed time did not improve intelligence on controversial subjects. No clear winner emerged. What is certain, is that we proceeded through Year 2000, often confronting the courts for decisions on just about everything except the millennium muddle. From Carnival to general elections, we needed to determine a winner, but the matter of which era these things were taking place in, remained a puzzle.

The Fonclaire Steel Orchestra took Pan Trinbago to court. A young lady filed an injunction to stop the band Poison from parading and Iwer George took the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Associaton through a legal joust, after the umbrella organisation declared SuperBlue winner of the road march contest by a single point.

Now, several aspects of the December 11 general elections are also before the court and there is a clear possibility of another general election, even as the Tobago House of Assembly prepares for its triennial poll. All this, taking place smack in the middle of a Carnival season that is already creating anxiety among its major producers.

In between the extremes of ongoing politics and the official period of masquerade, there were a number of side-shows too. High profile funerals turned into debates and contests, leaving the bereaved to grieve, while politicians argued for control of the corpse and attendant public relations opportunities.The interment of calypso grandmaster, Kitchener turned into a circus, with beer drinking and obscenities rampant in the churching of the dead. The final rites of chutney music legend Sundar Popo, were similarly tarnished by political bodysnatching.

Mark you, there were triumphs. Pan month never quite materialised (although an inter-faith service was held to herald the period), among which were the World Steelband Music Festival and the first International Conference on the Science and Technology of the Steelpan. The general elections proceeded peacefully and at a time when predictions to the contrary were commonplace. On the other hand, there was Dhanraj Singh and what promoters advertised as “the biggest show ever,” the Real Unity Concert, which turned into a fiasco of the largest size to date. Thousands who paid the top ticket price were turned into victims, when the stand on which they sat collapsed, not five minutes into the star’s performance.

Those among us who are able to interpret signs and portents might deduce cryptic conclusions from these examples. But life has always had its trials and the folklore is that such challenges make us stronger.

Perhaps we will be able to overcome these obstacles in the conduct of our affairs in 2001 and might even find out in which millennium we made the turnaround.

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